Vatican: ‘Other Christian churches are wounded’
In 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document entitled Dominus Iesus which stated unequivocally that the Church of England ‘is not a church in the proper sense’. One might think, as Pope, that the man might be inclined to adopt a more conciliatory tone (as he is manifestly doing with Islam, and related issues like the admission of Turkey into the European Union), but no: under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican is reiterating his statements of seven years ago, and insisting that Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism are ‘not full churches of Jesus Christ’.
His Holiness is prepared to accept Orthodox churches as true churches, but suffering from a ‘wound’ (Lat. defectus) since they do not recognise papal primacy (forget the minor quibble of the filioque). But the ‘wound is still more profound’ in Protestant denominations. The document states: ‘Despite the fact that (Dominus Iesus) created no little distress…it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of “Church” could possibly be attributed to them.’
This is a significant development. In 2000, the Church of England was simply not a proper church; now it is not a church at all. Unsurprisingly, Protestant leaders all over Europe find such statements ‘offensive’, and some have even observed that they 'will hurt inter-denominational dialogue’.
The document is about as conducive to good ecumenical relations as the declarations of the Rev Dr Ian Paisley that Rome is the Whore of Babylon and the Pope is the Antichrist. It refers to ‘ecclesial communities originating from the Reformation’ as containing ‘many elements of sanctification and truth’, but asserts that only Catholicism possesses all the elements to be Christ's Church fully. This is not bigotry, of course: it cannot be, because it is the truth. And this truth is made more palatable to heretics by the assurance that Rome ‘is not backtracking on ecumenical commitment’.
Indeed, not: it is simply restating its assertion that ecumenism is a one-way path to Rome. The only negotiations to be had are those that have a fore-ordained outcome on every article of faith and every teaching of Rome. For Protestants to engage in ecumenical dialogue is rather like attending a theological Alcoholics Anonymous: the first requirement is a public admission that you have a problem - a ‘wound’ (or ‘profound wound’) - and thereafter the path to healing, wholeness, and salvation becomes somewhat easier...
And what says the Church of England in response?
Oh, Cranmer forgot. The Archbishop of Canterbury is away on 'study leave'. While Archbishop Carey denounced Dominus Iesus as 'unacceptable', the official spokesman for Archbishop Williams says: 'This is a serious document, teaching on important ecclesiological matters and of significance to the churches' commitment to the full, visible unity to the one church of Jesus Christ.'
Well that alright then.
Protestant England has become an historical curiosity, surrounded by the competing seas of Islam and Roman Catholicism, about to be engulfed by one or both.